City's public hearings a three-ring circus 0
If you happened to be driving past Surrey City Hall on Saturday around 2 a.m., you might have noticed the building was still lit up. Inside, Mayor Dianne Watts and her council colleagues were working late debating the merits of a proposed new casino and hotel complex.
While most of us were well into a deep sleep, council members were deadlocked at 4-4, leaving Watts to cast the deciding vote against the controversial proposal.
Regardless of how you feel about gambling expansion in Surrey, the current public hearing process has once again been exposed as a flawed relic from a bygone era.
More than 200 speakers signed up for the hearing, with casino proponents reportedly busing in people to speak in favour of the plan. The coalition opposed to any form of gambling also brought in their troops.
Speaker after speaker, over the course of a couple of days, pleaded with civic politicians to do the right thing. As is so often the case in these types of public hearings, the arguments were lengthy, repetitive and filled with over-the-top rhetoric.
No matter which city you look at in Metro Vancouver, each has a similar version of a three-ring circus in desperate need of reform. Even casual civic observers would likely agree the public hearing process is open to being hijacked by one group or another.
The average voter, meanwhile, continues to get pushed further to the sidelines. Each year it would seem fewer people are prepared to subject themselves to a process that forces them to wait past midnight to be heard. Can you blame them?
If we’re interested in building better cities that meet the needs of both individual citizens and neighbourhoods, we need to rethink the way our politicians make decisions. Surely it doesn’t serve the greater public good to have a bleary-eyed mayor and council voting on critical decisions well past midnight.
If nothing else, the Surrey casino proposal has helped further expose the role special-interest groups play in the decision-making process at city hall. But it’s highly unlikely the politicians working within the system will be the ones arguing for a change.
Sadly, our current horse-and-buggy governance model will likely continue to play a crucial role in building our new high-tech cities for generations to come.
Next week, I’ll explore a few alternatives that would help to make our process of gathering public input a tad more meaningful.
Daniel Fontaine is a local political commentator. Follow him on Twitter @Fontaine_D.